Hiking expedition brings joy, trepidation for Caribbean youths

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What happens when you take young adults from eight Caribbean nations and plop them down on a sparsely populated island in The Bahamas for four days and three nights spent outdoors?  Hopefully, you strike Gold, an Award, that is, from the Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) International Award programme. As a member of the DofE’s International Award Association, the Governor General’s Youth Award (GGYA) is hosting the 39th edition of the Caribbean Award Sub Regional Council (CASC) Adventurous Journey which kicked off in New Providence on Friday, July 27. For the fourth time in the history of the annual event, The Bahamas will serve as a backdrop for a Gold Award-qualifying hiking trip which will see a 134-strong contingent of participants, leaders-in-training, and GGYA staff members descend upon Cat Island. The group departed the capital for Cat Island on Wednesday, August 1, aboard the mail boat, Day Break. While on that Family Island, Gold participants will hike around 50 miles toting a rucksack carrying roughly 30 percent of their body weight in essentials and supplies.

The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award programme, of which GGYA is the local affiliate, presents Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards to participants who fulfill time requirements in four key areas: skills, community service, physical recreation and adventurous journey. All CASC participants this year are hoping to achieve their Gold Award. “I made it through Bronze. I’ve made it through Silver. I feel like I got this,” said Ernest Bennett, a 19-year-old from the Cayman Islands. Equally confident is Guyana’s, Hebron Edwards. “Guyana is very mountainous and The Bahamas isn’t so I feel very prepared headed to Cat Island,” said the 20-year-old who works as a customer service representative at an insurance company while saving up for med school.

Still, Cat Island is unfamiliar terrain and although they’re from the Caribbean many participants say the Bahamian sun is unrelenting. “Here, it’s quite hot. Bermuda is also hot but nothing compared to this, but I still feel quite prepared,” said 17-year-old Ryley Mason, a student of Warwick Academy. “Before we go on any expedition we have to intensively plan each and every step, checkpoint, what we are going to eat over the trip. Every day is set-up beforehand so we are not going into this trip blind.” She added, “I am a little nervous because I don’t know what to expect in Cat Island but I’m excited to go on this amazing journey with my group because I know we can help each other in so many ways.”

Four days prior to their Cat Island departure, this gathering of young people were virtual strangers hailing from eight Caribbean Islands – Barbados, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Grenada, Guyana, St Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago and The Bahamas. Participation in this grueling trip, designed to test their mettle will force them to get up close and personal as they explore Cat Island by foot in an expedition which will run to Sunday, August 5. “This programme creates well-rounded people. I know this because my patience has grown tremendously,” said 17-year-old Shani Waithe, a participant from Barbados. “We have different personalities within the programme, but we have to meet on common ground. We can’t make rash decisions. We have to state the pros and cons and weigh out decisions with each person having an equal say. You learn to respect one another. Everybody has their strengths. We had to learn to encourage others in areas they are weak.”

For 20-year-old Joshua Oxley of Trinidad and Tobago, there were more than a few familiar faces in the CASC crowd. He attended the event in 2016 when his island hosted it. The experience provided him with invaluable insight – the right mindset is crucial to success. “I’ve prepared myself mentally to overcome any challenges I may or may not face along the way,” he said. “I’ve prepared for the worst and I’m hoping for the best.” St Lucia’s Jardell Lambert expressed a similar sentiment. “I’ve already prepared my mind to go through trials,” said the 17-year-old who has traveled extensively through the Caribbean. He attended CASC last year in Guyana, carried out his Bronze qualifying expedition in Dominica and as a tourist visited Barbados, St Vincent, and Trinidad. “I understand obstacles will cross my path I have to fight them down and win,” said the only St Lucian participant undertaking the adventurous journey.

If any participant has an edge, Kenaz Charlton, a student at Jordan Prince William High School thinks he must be the one. “I think I can handle Cat Island. I have an advantage since I’m used to this Bahamian sun,” said the 16-year-old. With that real or imagined edge, he’s prepared to be the glue that bonds his team together. “I’m looking forward to getting to know my team members better because they are all from different islands,” he said. “Cultural exchange is a very important part of CASC and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can learn from them.”

 

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